This year, May 3rd’s World Press Freedom Day held more weight than it perhaps had in the past. Although the U.S. affords us the luxury of free speech compared with nations that have been accused of violently punishing or jailing journalists, the years-held, unspoken agreement between the White House and press has gradually dissolved over the course of President Donald Trump’s time in office.
Also dissolved was the social “relationship” between Trump and model/foodie/Twitter connoisseur Chrissy Teigen, who frequently called out the president on Twitter, only to be blocked by him. Those actions were deemed unconstitutional last week, with a federal judge ruling that they violate First Amendment rights, considering the fact that Trump is operating from an official government account.
What’s conspiring here puts America in a different, yet still dangerous, position compared with other countries that fight for free press—a position that calls into question if the government can uphold democratic practices and, ultimately, the First Amendment. As of right now, it appears that it cannot. As such, the democratic ideal of America’s free press is hanging on by a thread.
This explosive debate has only been inflamed by key occasions over the past 12 months (blockings of civilians on Twitter included) that have left journalists dumbfounded, yet more inclined to ensure that their stories are truthful, reliable and, ultimately, told.
Here are three examples from the past year when Trump and his camp have staged assaults on press freedom, what journalists have done to rise above it and how all parties can preserve the free press going forward.
Not providing access
Shortly after Trump took office, his no- ex-press secretary barred notable news outlets from briefings. Conservative outlets were shown favoritism over ones that took a more critical view of his policies. Leaving the public out of these meetings—which cover key current events and business happenings at home and abroad—by banning outlets read by many hinders citizens’ decision-making skills.
Punishment for putting pen to paper is the beginning of a dangerous rhetoric against those who are tasked with supplying the public with crucial educational information and news that can impact society’s well-being.
Yet, the White House’s politically incorrect behavior has been the catalyst to reporters becoming more inclined to go the extra mile to get the scoop and hold Trump accountable for his actions.
Case in point: There has been over a year-long hunt to retrieve The Apprentice outtake tapes that have been rumored to show the president making racist, provocative comments. This same drive resulted in Trump’s alleged charitable donations being investigated. All efforts question whether or not he is fit for office and, ultimately, presidential.
To create a more transparent government, press and lawmakers must not just keep the open White House policy intact, but provide greater access to government data and introduce more user-friendly government websites. Politicians also must be held accountable to practice transparency once in office (on and off Twitter).
Pushing the fake news narrative
Trump is likely one of the main reasons why fake news was named the word of the year. His frequent suggestions that journalists are untrustworthy—what can be assumed is a defense mechanism to discredit those who criticize his policies in order to rally supporters—has caused civilians to question the reliability of news outlets and has been used to his benefit to position himself as an authority on the matter.
These incessant—and, many times, false—claims created a “them” versus “us” environment between the White House and the press, as well as press and society. Even the publishing and advertising ecosystem took a hit, as brands are now timid over placing ads on news sites in an attempt to not be associated with fake news in any way shape or form.